WhatsApp and fake news have become inseparable buddies over the past few years. This combination has led to some dire results and one of the more serious cases came earlier this year when fake news on WhatsApp led to a number of mob killings in India.
The Indian government wasn’t too chuffed about that and they told WhatsApp to fix their platform or else. Because India has WhatsApp largest user base with over 200 million users the call for WhatsApp to do something didn’t land on deaf ears. It was more of the Indian government shouting “Jump!” and WhatsApp meekly responding “how high?”
WhatsApp is now introducing more traditional methods of consumer awareness to fight fake news. The messaging service has deployed trucks with some actors and they go from town to town performing. According to Reuters:
The actors soon draw a crowd as the play unveils how spreading misinformation online can stir up mob violence, especially in the countryside, where caste and religious prejudices run deep.
Users who would have come to view these plays are also taught how to easily identify forwarded messages and how they can use the messaging app more responsibly.
I think this is the best implementation thus far as WhatsApp have tried other methods such as limiting the number of messages you can forward and making it harder to forward messages. The only problem with these software methods is that they don’t deal with the root issue. If someone wants to misinform the public putting a limit on the number of messages they can send will limit their reach but it does not come anywhere near actually nullifying the threat. Secondly, these methods do nothing for the uninformed readers who haven’t been trained to actually filter proper news from fake news…
The method of acting is more helpful and I’m pretty confident this would also work locally in both rural and urban communities as people do not seem to grasp the impact that forwarding a single message can have. Although WhatsApp doesn’t have offices in Zimbabwe, POTRAZ has taken a liking to roadshows and including plays or whatever methods they have of making people aware of the impact of using tools such as WhatsApp responsibly would be a great way of increasing their usefulness to communities and Zimbabwe in general.
WhatsApp (and social media) has been weaponised and we have seen on multiple occasions the terrible impact that social media can have if not used responsibly…
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